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Inspirational Reads

880...and what could have been...

January 2, 2007

Over the weekend, The General, Robert Montgomery Knight, won his 880th game as a head coach in Men's Division One basketball. You have to toss that Men's in there so that Pat Summit lovers don't get all pissy, despite the fact that there is more than one good team in Men's basketball, as opposed to Women's.

So, my heartfelt congratulations to a man for whom I grew up wanting to play basketball. His long and storied career at Indiana, of course, was cut short. Way too short, for any Indiana fan's liking. Granted, a lot of things came together to end that: Myles Brand, constant media scrutiny, Knight's legendary anger, Neil Reed choking and then being choked, Ron Felling being pissed at no longer being an assistant, some punk who didn't respect either his elders or a man that was as dedicated to the university as his fanbase was to him, and faculty who were jealous at the attention Knight garnered over them. Of course, I'm on the outside looking in. I have no real ties to Indiana University aside from loving their basketball team and respecting them as an institution from birth. Yes, I went to Notre Dame, but even when the Irish were ranked Number 10 in the nation and Troy Murphy was busy being top dick dog on campus, and Indiana was coming to town, I dressed in my cream and crimson and stood in the ND student section, cheering on those Hoosiers whom I dearly loved. Knight was gone, the team was a shadow of its former glory, and yet I loved watching Kirk Haston show Murphy how to play (of course, who has had the better professional career?).

I find it a little sad, though, that Texas Tech had to basically recruit a crowd to come and join them in watching Knight become the wins leader in Division 1. I mean, he's now coaching at a place where football is first, in a city in the middle of nowhere, for a fanbase that doesn't really care. Maybe that's good for Knight, though. He's out of the spotlight, he doesn't have the constant pressure of needing to win. He's taken Texas Tech, turned them around from a single-digit win team into a contender for, if not Big XII titles, then at least for NCAA tournament appearances. It seems the athletic department is thrilled with him, and they should be. He's a helluva coach. He certainly is a fiery personality, a polarizing man who either had legions of dedicated fans (Texas Tech memorabilia spiked in sales in the state of Indiana when Knight was hired at Tech) or armies of haters.

I didn't get to watch the game; I instead took my daughter to see Charlotte's Web. I heard the news when I got back in the car after the movie and was pleased. I saw him lose against UNLV (and thought back to 87 when Indiana beat UNLV on their way to the national title) and I watched him tie Dean Smith against Bucknell. Like I said, I was genuinely happy for both Texas Tech and Bob Knight, but moreso for Coach Knight, since I felt a real connection as he was my favorite coach for a long, long time (still is, but I am liking what Kelvin Sampson has brought to the table).

Right now, I'm watching Indiana battle against Ohio State. It's looking like Indiana's not going to be deep enough or athletic enough to keep up with the Buckeyes, and I'm fine with that. I understand that. Mike Davis' departure left the cupboard not just bare but nearly desolate, and Sampson has struggled to cobble together a team. Of course, I mention the Buckeyes specifically because this team is cornered by two Indiana kids. They might be young, but my God are Conley and Oden amazing. I've never, ever seen a big man move acrobatically in midair like Oden did earlier in the game to avoid a charge. It was smart, it was athletic, it was un-effing-believable. Conley has been fast, smart, needling and powerful on offense all night long, slicing the Indiana defense for lay-ups, dishes and all sorts of winning moves.

And to think, they could be wearing Cream and Crimson right now.

Had Knight been able to contain his anger earlier in his career, to explode less and meltdown fewer times in public, who knows what could have happened? Would he have been able to talked Haston into coming back for one final year and then win the national championship in 2002? Keep Jarred Jeffries and recruit Sean May? Win the 2003 championship? 2004? What about now? Could you imagine, on one team, Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jr., Josh McRoberts, Luke Zeller...with Eric Gordon coming in? How many championships would he win with that line-up? Could he challenge Wooden? No, never. But he'd definitely have far more championships than Coach K. Not to take anything away from the Knight protege, but those are high-powered offenses we're talking about. Indiana (the state) has been cranking out stud college stars for years now, and one of Mike Davis' downfalls was his inability to put ANY of those kids in red.

And we wouldn't be talking about 880 wins on the first day of 2007. Knight was out of coaching for a year, so add an extra 20 wins to his resume. Also think about the powerful lineups he could have been trotting out there just by recruiting within in own state, a problem Bob Knight has never really had. Think about some of the kids that slipped away in the later years. Chris Thomas to Notre Dame, Jason Gardner to Arizona, the loss of Luke Recker, the kid who went to Memphis (can't remember his name), Sean May...all of these guys came from Indiana. They were legends in the high school ranks. They should have all been slated to put on red-and-white-striped warm ups and jog around Assembly Hall as they prepared themselves for the next step in their careers, and making geeky fan boys like me mess themselves over the number of wins and championships they'd generate. We'd be talking about Knight hitting win1000, not just 880! He might not be the King of College Basketball. That will always belong to John Wooden (who is also, *ahem*, from Indiana), but Knight could have filled his grand shadow easily with his fistful of rings and his 1000+ career wins.


I often dare to dream what might have happened. What would have happened in 1975 if Scott May didn't break his arm? What about 1993 if Alan Henderson hadn't blown his knee? 1992 if Bobby Hurley hadn't been hitting threes from anywhere in the building? That would be eight championships for Indiana (1940, 53, 75*, 76, 81, 87, 92*, 93*) and six for Knight. But then...what else? 2002? 2003? I'll take one of those. I'll also take one in the near future, 2007, 2008? That'd be ten National Championship banners, eight of them under Bob Knight. 1000 wins. Indiana's lore in college basketball forever etched into the minds of all fandom. And the man setting the win record where he belonged: in Bloomington, Indiana.

Oh, what could have been...


Chemgeek said...

Nice post! Knight gets a lot of unnecessary criticism. Usually from people who don't understand the values of intensity and discipline. Look at Knight's graduation record. He got wins, but he also helped a lot of boys become successful young men.

Now, while you won my respect for this post, I'm going to have a hard time accepting the Favre one. I'm a Vikings fan and Farve has been the bane of my existence for years. Frave should have retired about 10 years ago. I will admit that Faver is one of the best QBs of all time, but I don't like it. To make matters worse, my sister is madly in love with rFave. It's enough to put me off my lunch.

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

Not only the graduation rate, but he ran a clean program and was very active in the university community (raising and donating millions for the IU library).

In fact, I read an article on not too long ago where, of all the major college basketball havens (places with multiple championships and steeped in tradition), only one has ever NOT been cited for a violation of NCAA rules: Indiana (though Kelvin Sampson did bring his with him, this is not Indiana's fault).

As for Favre...I totally understand. If he had been a Bear, I'd have hated him. Or a Viking. Or pretty much anyone else. He was the catalyst for turning my passive interest in the NFL and the Packers into an ardent love, unfortunately at the expense of your team.